Brendan Bottcher wins 1st career Brier
Team Alberta defeats Kevin Koe to win men's national curling championship
Brendan Bottcher knew it would require a near-flawless performance to deny Kevin Koe a fifth career title at the Canadian men's curling championship.
He was just about perfect Sunday night to finally end a three-year silver streak at the Tim Hortons Brier.
Bottcher shot 97 per cent to lead his Alberta side to a 4-2 victory. Koe's Wild Card Two conceded in the 10th end with no options available to score a game-tying deuce.
"It's just such a good feeling when you know you've worked so hard and then you come out and play your best at the biggest game there is," Bottcher said. "That's just really a cool and a special feeling."
With about 30 seconds left on the clock, Koe and teammates John Morris, B.J. Neufeld and Ben Hebert briefly studied the house. Facing three stones and with no real chance at pulling even, they decided to call it.
Bottcher and teammates Darren Moulding, Brad Thiessen and Karrick Martin enjoyed a celebratory team hug by the side of the sheet in the odd silence of the spectator-free Markin MacPhail Centre.
"I don't remember life ever not dreaming and wanting this," Moulding said. "It's my whole life's work. It's kind of overwhelming actually. But this is what I always pictured for sure."
WATCH | Bottcher wins Brier:
Stinging final losses
The Edmonton-based foursome made their Brier debut together in 2017 and remained intact through three stinging final losses.
"Losing in this game sucks, for lack of a better word," Bottcher said. "It really sucks. It sucked the first time, it sucked the second time and it sucked just as much the third time.
"We all show it differently but (the win) just means so much to us and I think that was really on display here tonight when we closed it out."
The teams blanked five of the first six ends, with Alberta forcing Wild Card Two to a single in the third.
The game finally opened up in the seventh end as Koe flashed a stone after it picked. He also missed a double-takeout to set up Bottcher for a draw for three.
Bottcher kept the pressure on by forcing Koe to make a tough double-takeout against five to salvage a single in the eighth. Bottcher missed a double for two in the ninth and settled for one.
"If there was ever going to be a guy that was going to catch you late, it was going to be Kevin," Bottcher said. "I really thought we hung on, we did what we needed to do and we were able to capitalize on that.
"That's something that we should be proud of."
Down two with hammer, Koe was unable to build the end he wanted for the necessary pair to force an extra.
"We just didn't take advantage," he said. "They had two misses in 10 and we should have been able to come out of that with at least a deuce. Capitalizing on your opportunities when there isn't many out there [is key]."
Koe finished at 74 per cent and his team shot 84 per cent overall. Alberta threw at 91 per cent.
The Brier was the second of seven competitions to be held in the Canada Olympic Park bubble. The Canadian women's championship kicked things off last month.
Earlier in the day, Bottcher hit a game-winning angle-raise for a 6-5 semifinal win over Saskatchewan's Matt Dunstone.
Bottcher removed the Saskatchewan stone from the button and stuck around to score two points for the victory.
"Obviously it was a super-difficult shot," Bottcher said. "But those are the moments we're playing for, for those kind of shots."
Koe, from Calgary, defeated Bottcher in the 2019 final. He represented Alberta that year and Bottcher's side was Team Wild Card.
Brier field expanded to 18 teams
The field was expanded from 16 to 18 teams for this season to accommodate teams that didn't get a chance to compete in provincial/territorial playdowns due to the pandemic.
Bottcher was selected to represent Alberta and Koe got the second of three wild-card entries based on the Canadian rankings.
Koe finished first in the championship pool with a 10-2 record. Dunstone and Bottcher were next at 9-3.
Dunstone was hoping to reach his first career Brier final after winning bronze last year.
"There's nothing to hang our heads about," he said. "It was a world-class game. They played awesome and we played awesome.
"The curling gods were wearing a blue sweater today. That's all there is to it. It totally stinks but this isn't the end of us."
The last Saskatchewan team to win the Brier was skipped by Rick Folk in 1980.
Koe continues to share the record of four Brier wins as a skip with Ernie Richardson, Randy Ferbey and Kevin Martin.
He was also trying to become the first hometown winner since Brad Gushue won in St. John's, N.L., in 2017. Gushue defended his crown the following year and also won last season.
Bottcher will represent Canada at the April 2-11 world men's curling championship in the same venue.
His team already has a berth in the Olympic Trials in November so the spot for the Brier win will be made available at a pre-trials event this fall.
Bottcher's rink earned $100,000 of the $300,000 total purse. Koe's team earned $60,000 for the silver.
Bottcher was named the winner of the Ross Harstone sportsmanship award earlier in the day. Thiessen was named a first-team all-star along with Gushue, Saskatchewan third Braeden Moskowy and Wild Card Two lead Ben Hebert.
Koe was named to the second-team all-star list with Neufeld at third, Canada second Brett Gallant and Northern Ontario lead Ryan Harnden.
Manitoba-based Kerri Einarson is the reigning Scotties Tournament of Hearts champion.
She'll represent Canada at the April 30-May 9 world women's curling championship. That event is slated to be the seventh and final event in the Calgary bubble.